During my commutes on the tube to and from work, I’ve found myself skimming through the Metros and reading each free weekly ES magazine (which are great aids for avoiding eye contact with anyone) in the search for events and activities to go to before University starts for the year.
I came across a double page spread advertising an exhibition in Somerset House during September about the history and development of the perfume industry. At first I thought it definitely wasn’t for me as I’ve never bought myself perfume (It’s been bought for me, don’t panic) and I have no idea what I’m talking about when it comes to scents so I would be way out of my depth.
But then I realised It’s an exhibition not a tasting (smelling?) class after all.
The location for a start was beautiful. The space was held in the East wing of Somerset House just a few minutes away from Covent Garden. Shout-out to the staff too who were lovely and let me go in earlier than planned as well as re-enter after my first tour.
The first room contained some of the world’s most famous and successful scents; Burberry’s Purple Rain, Dior’s Eau Sauvage, Giorgio’s Beverly Hills to name a few.
Pedestals and glass covers were used to encase the bottles which helped emphasise how iconic they’ve been over time. There was a huge emphasis on how perfumer’s were independent and unpopular until around the mid 20th Century when major fashion houses started producing their own scents, such as the one below.
Synthetic materials were just being discovered in the late 1800’s by aspiring perfumers. These new materials created scents which differed hugely from the soliflores (women’s scents around the time) currently being produced.
François Coty was the pioneer of perfume concocting. He was the first person to incorporate new synthetic materials into his own perfumes which created original and unique smells, as well as being intelligent enough to observe department stores at the time and take the idea of branding, packaging and marketing into perfume production.
The booming, marketing savvy and celebrity placement fuelled perfume industry we have today is all thanks to Coty.
After viewing the many famous and influential scents of the 20th Century, the exhibition begun.
Immersive, Interactive and Intriguing
Rooms were created to display 10 anonymous perfumes with an environment and visual/physical aids to enhance the experience and feeling.
All perfumes have been/are still sold commercially.
DANIELA ANDRIER – PURPLE RAIN (2015)
A sumptuous re-working of traditional iris perfumes
Once smelling the first 5 perfumes, a room showed all the descriptions of each perfume as well as the key ingredients. It was like a game, or a test of your own senses to see what you could feel and experience through smell. How arty.
ANTOINE LIE – SÉCRETIONS MAGNIFIQUES (2007)
The scent of sexual pleasure
Remember this title – it’s quite the product.
To put it frankly, I thought this perfume smelt awful, in fact borderline sickening. It smelt dirty, sweaty and gone-off. I later learned that this perfume was based on the aromas and, well, “secretions” of sex. Work that one out for yourselves.
GEZA SCHOEN – MOLECULE 01 (2007)
The skill of science meets the art of perfume
DAVID SETH MOLTZ – EL COSMICO (2015)
A sensory exploration of the Texan Desert
Some of the perfumes were more easily identifiable than others as they had more relatable smells, such as beer, chemicals and sweets rather than a type of crushed flower from the deep forests of the Amazon only 0.3% of the population know about.
Overall, an unusual, thought provoking, testing, niche experience. I like niche.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my experience, and if you get the chance to go, I’d definitely recommend it. As well as some food in Covent Garden afterwards too of course.
Get Tickets for yourself here: Perfume – A Sensory Journey
Student tickets are also available too (whoop)!